As technology evolves, WMed’s Program in Biomedical Informatics seeks to equip health professionals with tools to improve patient care

"."The way Dr. Robert Brown and Jay Ronquillo see it, the healthcare system in the U.S. is facing serious challenges that, if not overcome, could result in a breakdown that could have an immensely negative impact on patient care.

The good news, though, is that they and others in the field of Biomedical Informatics believe that existing and evolving technology can play an important role in not only improving healthcare, but also in building a newer, more advanced healthcare system that will benefit physicians and, most importantly, their patients.

“We are kind of living in an increasingly digital and data-driven world,” said Dr. Ronquillo, assistant professor for WMed’s Program in Biomedical Informatics. “In terms of improving healthcare, population health, public health, it will be important to train healthcare providers to be able to leverage these tools and technologies going forward and to be able to educate future healthcare providers.”

With that mission in mind, Dr. Brown, Dr. Ronquillo and Dr. Jon Walsh, are leading WMed’s new Program in Biomedical Informatics. Drs. Brown and Walsh are co-chiefs of the new program, which will accept its first group of new students in September.

Enrollment for the new program at WMed is now open and the medical school and Drs. Brown, Ronquillo and Walsh will host an information session about the program from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, 2017. The session will include an overview of the field of Biomedical Informatics and the program at WMed, as well as time for a Q&A. The event is for students and current healthcare providers to learn more about the new program at WMed.

The program at WMed is made up of two interdisciplinary graduate-level programs focused on clinical informatics. The first is a two-semester, 15-credit program leading to a Certificate in Applied Clinical Informatics.

The certificate program is designed for students with a healthcare background and focuses on the challenges that exist in developing and applying healthcare technology in clinical settings. The program seeks to provide working clinicians with the knowledge and applicable skills to make a positive impact on the delivery of healthcare through the use of technology.

WMed also is offering a four-semester, 30-credit program leading to a Master of Science degree in Clinical Informatics. The master’s degree program is meant for students who are interested in gaining a more in-depth understanding of clinical informatics, including advanced data analytics, security, technology project planning and implementation, and the program culminating in a capstone project in a healthcare setting.

Dr. Brown said the certificate and master’s programs are designed to accommodate working professionals by offering online instruction, as well as classroom instruction at the medical school’s W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus that occurs during an eight-hour block every other Saturday.

WMed’s new program comes at a time when clinical informaticists are in demand, Dr. Brown said.

He pointed out that the use of technology in healthcare is growing rapidly, from the use of electronic health records to new mobile and smartphone technology that are empowering patients to monitor and take a more active role in managing their healthcare along with their physician.

Even more, Dr. Brown said advancements in medicine have led to fields of expertise in healthcare that – just 10 to 15 years ago – did not exist, such as genomics.

“Now, we have gigabytes and terabytes of information about genes and DNA, and things at the molecular and cellular level that are critical to understanding disease, the progression of disease and different responses to drugs,” Dr. Brown said. “That now has to be factored in as you’re treating patients with increasingly complex diseases.”

The growth of electronic health record systems across the U.S. is also changing healthcare, Dr. Brown said. The systems are not only valuable in tracking and treating individual patients, but the information is leading to the collection of massive data sets that can lead to the identification of correlations and trends that will improve patient care and maybe prove beneficial in identifying patients who are good candidates for clinical trials.

“All of these different technologies open the door to transforming healthcare,” Dr. Ronquillo said.

At WMed, Dr. Brown said he and others in the Program in Biomedical Informatics are seeking to offer instruction in the certificate and master’s degree programs that will help students and practicing clinicians be a part of “a learning healthcare system that is constantly changing, evolving, and constantly adopting new techniques and approaches.”

"We think that’s another thing clinicians need to learn, if they don’t already know it, is that they’re a key part of that learning healthcare system,” Dr. Brown said. “They’re not only treating patients, but they’re the front line in collecting data that can be used in the analysis of information repositories that we’re building from every patient contact and every patient outcome.

“We need clinicians who are expert knowledge explorers. They need to be experts in finding the right information and the information they need to be optimal practitioners of their particular specialty.”

The application deadline for WMed’s certificate and master's programs in Biomedical Informatics is July 15, 2017. Applications will be processed as they are received and select candidates will be invited to complete a telephone interview with a member of the program committee. Decisions about acceptance will be communicated no later than August 1, 2017, with classes beginning September 2017.